Is Automation About Reducing FTEs?

Is Automation About Reducing FTEs?

Automation is the re-engineering of processes to employ a minimal amount of human intervention using machines, technology, or systems. Automation aims to reduce manual labour and error-prone processes while increasing productivity, efficiency, and accuracy.

Automation has proven to be essential in many industries, including information technology, manufacturing, transportation, healthcare, and finance. It entails streamlining repetitive procedures, enhancing consistency, as well as enabling operations to function without human supervision by utilizing software, robotics, artificial intelligence, sensors, and other technology.

Employees are the essential capital, that define, implement, improve, fine-tune and re-engineer processes. Hence, the full-time employee (FTE) is essentially a unit of measurement used by employers or organizations to measure the cost of a process. FTEs are frequently used as units to assess the workload and expenses of various employment arrangements in budgeting, workforce planning, and reporting. It enables businesses to equalize and compare the contributions made by employees.

Now, to address the question, is automation about reducing FTEs? Automation is not necessarily all about reducing FTEs, although that is one of its outcomes. Automation may reduce time spent on a process by FTEs by minimizing the hours of manual labour through automating repetitive and mundane tasks. Automation processes also make for improved efficiency. Fewer workers are needed to achieve the same or more productivity. Automated tasks generally are faster and far more consistent than human operations, making for a higher level of productivity. Automated processes lead to more accurate outcomes as the potential for human error has been removed. Reduced error rates also help with cost savings as the need for error correction and rework will no longer be an issue.

Whilst there is some truth to a certain degree, it is vital to understand that automation does not eliminate the need for workers, rather it substitutes it so that employees can be focused on more challenging tasks that require critical thinking and out-of-the-box thinking. Automation helps build the framework for a successful business by allowing workers to focus on higher-value tasks that require human judgement and creativity. If automation is deployed with the correct strategy, it should naturally allow newer roles to emerge.

It’s important to understand that a successful business always needs to re-invent itself. Automation will always improve existing processes but it will never be able to re-engineer processes to yield new value.

Automation has been a pivotal part of human development since the medieval ages. In ancient times, waterwheels and windmills were used as early forms of automation to ease tasks such as pumping water and grinding grains in Persia as well as the Middle East. The industrial revolution came with the innovation of steam power as well as the mechanization of textile production which was revolutionary for manufacturing processes. Conveyer belts and assembly lines were notably introduced using electrical machines. During the mid-20th century, electrical and electronic engineering blossomed which led to the development of more sophisticated and complex control systems. The invention of the microchip led to innovation in automation and has transformed the way we communicate and access information. It shaped the modern digital age we live in. Now cut to the current era where the advent of computers and digital technologies have accelerated automation immensely across several industries. Robots are now extremely prevalent in manufacturing enabling all sorts of tasks to be automated.

All while alleviating humans from repetitive and potentially hazardous tasks. Automation plays a very significant role in shaping various aspects of the economy and dictating society. It is the human mind that will innovate new processes that will yield new value – and which in turn will need automation to make it more efficient. Hence, we should view the current AI and ML revolution within the same paradigm and move away from the hype of AI displacing jobs. Like with technology in the past, it will displace jobs, requiring reskilling, and upskilling – a responsibility that employers must take for it is the very same employees that will engineer new tasks that deliver new and greater value.


Dr Khalid Basit

Director of Automation Consultancy at M.M. & COO TIAC (Telecom Intelligent Automation Council). A seasoned expert in guiding organizations through transformative journeys. Specializes in initiating process discovery sessions that allow clients to envision change. Supporting them through each step, culminating in the realization of digital transformation necessary to drive tangible business value.
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